Inaugural Tropfest SEA coming to Malaysia


After its enormously successful incarnations as Tropfest U.S., Tropfest New Zealand and Tropfest Arabia, the world’s largest short film festival will finally make its debut in Southeast Asia. The inaugural Tropfest SEA will for the first time ever take place on Jan, 24 and 25, 2014, in Georgetown, capital of Malaysia’s federal state of Penang, with festival director Joe Sidek confident that this regional version of the short film bonanza is going to become an annual event.

Designed as both a film competition and a festival, Tropfest SEA is expected to provide a much-needed venue for talented local directors to showcase their work to a larger public. To be held at Georgetown’s historic central square, the Esplanade, in the shadows of the famous clock tower and British colonial-era Fort Cornwallis, the festival, promoted as “a celebration of film, music and creativity,” also has the luck of having secured a tremendously atmospheric location.

While the genre of any film submitted for the competition section does not matter and can be anything from animation to drama, documentary and musical, the submission criteria are comparatively stringent: The film must be not longer than seven minutes (including titles and credits), it must have been specifically made for Tropfest SEA 2014, and the festival must be the production’s very first public screening. Additionally, every film must contain the so-called “Tropfest Signature Item,” which for the Penang event has been determined to be rice—in any form and presentation. Furthermore, each entry “must be sensitive to and respect the cultural, political and religious beliefs and practices of Southeast Asia.” Participating filmmakers must be citizens or residents of Southeast Asia, namely the countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor. All finalist movies will have their first public screening on Jan. 25, 2014, before the jury announces the winner, who will receive a cash award of $10,000 and be invited to a sponsored five-day industry immersion trip to Los Angeles.

The festival organizers are now calling for eligible submissions, and details can be found at the festival website, with the deadline for competition entries being Oct. 28, 2013. Following the premiere of the finalist movies, they will continue to be available to the general public on as part of an exclusive partnership between the social viewing and sharing platform and Tropfest. “We are honored to be partnered with a platform that aims to be the home of short films from Southeast Asia. We hope to leverage on Viddsee’s appeal and reputation with filmmakers and film communities to increase competition entries ahead of our festival,” said Sidek.

Largest Thai Chain Plans Massive Expansion
Major Cineplex Group Plc, Thailand’s largest theatre chain, has embarked on a massive nationwide expansion of its available screens. The company currently operates some 450 screens nationwide, roughly split 50/50 between the capital Bangkok and the rest of the country, and representing a healthy 70% share of the total market.

So far this year, Major Cineplex has installed about 10 new screens every month in Bangkok and other provinces combined, and the plan for 2014 is to add yet another 100 screens exclusively in the provinces. After that, the expansion drive is expected to gradually slow down, although Jim Patterson, the group’s director of business development, is confident that the company “can comfortably reach a nationwide total of 600, even 800 screens, within the next five years. There even is the remote possibility that we can reach 1,000 screens, although this primarily depends on the expansion strategies of our partners,” Patterson told FJI.

Major Cineplex theatres are generally located in large shopping malls, such as Tesco Lotus stores. “Whenever Tesco Lotus expands upcountry [i.e., in the provinces], we follow suit,” Patterson asserted. The main reason for focusing on expansion in the provinces is that Bangkok’s cinema market is slowly approaching saturation point, while outside the capital modern movie theatres only started to appear a few years ago, first in Thailand’s major tourist resorts and then elsewhere in the countryside, as disposable incomes continue to improve steadily and movie tickets are nowadays no longer considered a luxury by most locals. And apparently there is considerable untapped market potential, because Patterson assured that “we currently don’t have a single cineplex [anywhere in Thailand] that is losing money.”

Thailand’s Kantana Group Banks on Budget Theatres
Thailand’s leading media and entertainment firm Kantana Group announced plans to introduce its own brand of mini-cineplexes based on a “community cinema concept” across Thailand and—at a later stage—also in other regional countries. Branded as “Kantana Cineplexes” and to be operated by a newly established subsidiary, Asia Cinema Network, each of the community cinemas will hold 50 seats, with ticket prices fixed at 30 baht (approx. $1) per ticket.

Jaruek Kaljaruek, chairman of Kantana Group, said a total of 1,000 of these community theatres are projected to be established in the country within the next 12 months in joint development between Kantana and local investors under a 50/50 revenue-sharing plan. He claimed the company has already attracted some 540 local investors so far. Each of the mini-theatres will require an investment of 1.2 million baht ($40,000), not including the roughly 8,500 sq. ft. of land needed for building each venue.

“We expect 70 percent of total revenues from these community cinemas to be derived from advertising, and the remaining 30 percent to come from ticket sales,” Kaljaruek noted. Of all ticket sales, Kantana will receive 10%, local investors will pocket 40%, and the remaining 50% will go to movie producers. Local investors are at liberty to generate additional revenue for themselves by organizing and conducting other events like community exhibitions and weekend markets or renting out their cinemas to smaller meetings and conventions.

Kantana Group came up with the community cinema idea after industry research suggested that despite rising incomes in Thailand, a large proportion among lower-income earners, especially in the provinces, still cannot afford regular movie tickets. In this context, the project is also seen as a promising measure to counteract movie piracy, as many people tend to regularly resort to pirated DVD copies of popular movies instead of visiting a cinema.

Besides engaging in a number of other media activities, Kantana Group is also a major film studio and movie distributor. The community cinemas are not intended to directly compete with regular theatres, as they will only screen movies after they have had their regular runs in big cinema chains like Major Cineplex and SF Cinema. According to Kaljaruek, the venture has so far also met with considerable interest from potential investors in neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

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